New Bacteria Threatens Illinois Corn Crop

Illinois is now one of nine states to have confirmed bacterial leaf streak disease in the corn crop. (WICS)

Illinois is now one of nine states to have confirmed bacterial leaf streak disease in the corn crop. However, agronomists say they believe it's late enough in the growing season that it shouldn't have an impact on yields.

Jerry Harbour, a crop specialist at Prairieland FS, says this disease started in sugarcane plants.

"The pathogen actually came as a sugarcane disease and went to corn. It was first noted in Africa in some corn, but we just found it here in Illinois."

Only confirmed, so far, in DeKalb County, this string of bacteria is thought to be the product of this year's wet conditions.

Kelli Bassett, a field agronomist at DuPont Pioneer, says this disease has been confirmed in more western states.

"It's favored by the climate that would be similar to what we had this year with a lot of moisture and precipitation. So in areas in the west where they have overhead irrigation, it's been found out there and seems to be more prevalent."

Little is known about the disease. At a time when corn prices are already low, this bacteria continues to create more headaches for farmers. While this year's yield may not be impacted, it could still affect future harvests.

Gavin Pope, a farmer in Montgomery County, says these issues could change the plan for farms throughout the year.

"If a potential insect or disease or fungus, anything of that nature, comes in and changes that, it changes the whole dynamics for the rest of the year and even possibly, moving forward for the next couple years," said Pope.

The disease is present on the leaves as long, narrow lesions that can be tan or brown in color. They appear between the veins of the leaf, similar to gray leaf spot.

"Gray leaf spot has some different characteristics, a little more blocky on the edges, where this stuff may be a little more wavy and have some yellow halos and more of a wavy line," said Harbour.

Since it's a bacterial disease, fungicides cannot be used.

Information is limited about bacterial leaf disease in the corn crop, but it's encouraged that farmers use deep tillage and crop rotation to be sure that next year's crop isn't infected.

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